Talk with the Doc

Bishop Baraga Shrine marks 50 years

Dr. Jim Surrell, Journal columnist

This year we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the marvelous Shrine of Bishop Baraga. This amazing structure is located just off U.S. 41 between L’Anse and Baraga here in our beautiful Upper Peninsula, where Bishop Baraga spent most of his time after coming to the New World from Slovenia.

At this easily accessible location between L’Anse and Baraga, you can visit this giant figure of Bishop Baraga, rising some 60 feet above the bluff overlooking Keweenaw Bay. This huge shrine is actually made of copper. This heroic statue pays tribute to one of the earliest and most beloved pioneers of the Keweenaw Bay area. To this day, Frederic Baraga is often referred to as the “Snowshoe Priest.” He became the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula and was known as the Apostle of the Great Lakes.

Frederic Baraga left his home in Slovenia in 1830 for the Catholic missions of the Upper Great Lakes. Father Baraga’s intention was to minister to the native peoples of the region. In the process he founded five missions along the south shore of Lake Superior and created a legend. The last of his missions was sited in the village of L’Anse which had been the site of an earlier Jesuit mission founded in the late 1600s. He remained in L’Anse from 1843 and was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula in 1853.

His title as the “Snowshoe Priest” came from the necessity of long journeys in the winter months to serve many churches in numerous small communities in the western end of the Upper Peninsula. Even after he became a Bishop, Baraga continued his priestly duties, often wearing snowshoes as he covered distances of more than 60 miles. Bishop Baraga was known to travel over 700 miles even during the winter months as he served his churches.

Baraga learned to speak the native languages fluently and developed their written language. His Chippewa grammar and dictionary book is still in use today. In 1832, his first Indian Prayer Book was printed in Detroit. In 1853 he was elevated to Bishop, becoming the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The Bishop Baraga Shrine, erected in the 1960s, was designed and constructed by the late Jack Anderson with the help of Art Chaput. Anderson was commissioned by the Bishop Baraga Foundation to memorialize this dedicated man of God through funds raised by local subscription. Holding a cross (7 feet long) and snowshoes (26 feet long) the statute of Bishop Baraga is 35 feet tall and weighs four tons. It floats on a cloud of stainless steel supported by five laminated wood beams representing Baraga’s five major missions.

The Shrine is an impressive wonderful place to visit that is located just off the highway between L’Anse and Baraga. There is a well kept picnic area, gift, and snack shop on the site where you will find several fine books about Baraga and the early days of these Keweenaw Bay communities. You may also find yourself reflecting on the challenging conditions confronting this priest in his efforts to bring the Grace of God to the indigenous peoples of a wild and unforgiving land. The Baraga Shrine Gift and Coffee Shop was purchased in 2007 by the Missionaries of the Liturgy, a non-profit organization. The building is now the Baraga Shrine Holy Store and Missionary Center featuring a wide assortment of books, gifts, refreshments, ice cream, and public restrooms. All are welcome! I strongly suggest you pay a visit to the Baraga Shrine, and I know you will be glad you did.

To learn more about Bishop Baraga, I encourage you visit the Bishop Baraga Educational Center and Museum, located at 615 South Fourth Street in Marquette. You may contact them at 906- 227-9117, or visit their very informative website at bishopbaraga.org/baraga-educational-center.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books.Contact Dr. Surrell by email at sosdietdoc@gmail.com.


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